Eichel says sus­pen­sion is ‘tough’

Sabres’ cen­ter dis­agrees with NHL’s de­ci­sion

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Ja­son Wolf

Sabres cen­ter Jack Eichel and coach Phil Hous­ley both said that they dis­agree with the NHL Depart­ment of Player Safety’s de­ci­sion to sus­pend the Sabres’ cap­tain for two games after Eichel hit Colorado Avalanche cen­ter Carl Soder­berg with an il­le­gal check to the head late in the sec­ond pe­riod of Satur­day’s 3-0 loss at Colorado.

Eichel will miss home games against Dal­las on Tues­day and Pitts­burgh on Thurs­day. In a cor­re­spond­ing move, the Sabres re­called Alexan­der Ny­lan­der from

Rochester.

“It’s tough. Ob­vi­ously, you don’t want to miss two games with the team,” Eichel said

Mon­day after prac­tice at KeyBank

Cen­ter. “It’s the league’s de­ci­sion.

Ob­vi­ously, we have to stand by it. But

I don’t agree with it. Ob­vi­ously, if you look at the hit and you look at their rule book, I just didn’t think that it matched up. That’s not an il­le­gal hit. I don’t move my­self to lower it into him.

“If you watch the hit, he ac­tu­ally is at fault for drop­ping his head down there. It’s a 50/50 puck that I’m try­ing to make a hockey play on. You see me, I had my eyes on the puck the whole time and then I ac­tu­ally make a play on the puck after, so, you know, it’s kind of frus­trat­ing.

“If they’re go­ing to have a rule about head shots, it has to be pretty black and white. If all head shots are sus­pend­able, sus­pend all head shots. But it’s tough to see them pick­ing and choos­ing what they feel is sus­pend­able. But it’s a de­ci­sion you have to live with.”

Hous­ley echoed Eichel’s re­marks in a brief press con­fer­ence.

“I don’t agree with the de­ci­sion,” Hous­ley said, “but we have to live with it. And that’s all I’m go­ing to say about that.”

Eichel re­ceived a penalty for an “il­le­gal check to the head” at 14:48 of the sec­ond pe­riod after he and Soder­berg were en­gaged in a puck bat­tle in the neu­tral zone. Soder­berg fell briefly on his stom­ach be­fore head­ing to the bench. He played the rest of the game and ap­peared un­in­jured.

Eichel had a phone hear­ing Sun­day with the NHL’s Depart­ment of Player Safety, which is­sued the first fine or sus­pen­sion of his four-year NHL ca­reer.

”With Soder­berg reach­ing for the puck, Eichel cut sharply in front of him with his up­per body hit­ting Soder­berg’s head and mak­ing it the main point of con­tact on a hit where such head con­tact was avoid­able,” the league said.

”While we ac­knowl­edge Eichel’s ar­gu­ment that Soder­berg is low and reach­ing for the puck, this hit does not meet any of the cri­te­ria for un­avoid­able head con­tact un­der Rule 48.”

Un­der the terms of the Col­lec­tive Bar­gain­ing Agree­ment and based on his av­er­age an­nual salary, Eichel will for­feit $107,526.88. The money goes to the Play­ers’ Emer­gency As­sis­tance Fund.

The league ab­solved Soder­berg of con­tribut­ing to the na­ture of the hit.

”His head and core move in a con­sis­tent man­ner,” the league said, “and do not sud­denly and ma­te­ri­ally change po­si­tion in a way that changes the na­ture of this hit from a full body check to one that picks the head.”

Eichel had been ag­i­tated after tak­ing a late and high hit from for­mer Sabres de­fense­man Nikita Zadorov in the first pe­riod. Zadorov re­ceived a mi­nor penalty for rough­ing on the play, which came after a whis­tle for off­sides. He is not fac­ing sup­ple­men­tal dis­ci­pline.

”I think it was a phys­i­cal game, so that’s what it re­quired,” Eichel said. “I don’t think I was fin­ish­ing my check. I fin­ished more than just one check, but I don’t think I was fin­ish­ing a check there. It’s a hockey play that un­for­tu­nately led to me get­ting sus­pended for two games.”

Eichel is el­i­gi­ble to re­turn Satur­day at Carolina. Eichel has 25 goals, 47 as­sists and 72 points in 65 games this sea­son. He missed three games ear­lier this sea­son after suf­fer­ing an up­per­body in­jury.

”No one’s go­ing to be able to re­place him,” Sabres for­ward Sam Rein­hart said. “That’s just a fact with the tal­ent he has, so I think ei­ther with him in the lineup or out of the lineup, I think at this time when things aren’t go­ing well for re­ally any­body you’ve just got to play your game and take ad­van­tage of bounces hope­fully and set­tle your­self down and play with some com­po­sure.”

Is there any­thing Eichel can learn from this ex­pe­ri­ence?

“I don’t know,” Eichel said. “What do you learn from a sus­pen­sion? Avoid con­tact? It’s tough, you know? It’s a phys­i­cal game and things hap­pen re­ally fast out there, so you’re con­stantly re­quired to make split-sec­ond de­ci­sions and that one, I’m brac­ing my­self think­ing con­tact’s com­ing and he tries to poke it around me and go into the in­side and his head goes off my back.”

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